The following is an archived copy of a message sent to a Discussion List run by the Campaign Against Sanctions on Iraq.

Views expressed in this archived message are those of the author, not of the Campaign Against Sanctions on Iraq.

[Main archive index/search] [List information] [Campaign Against Sanctions on Iraq Homepage]

[Date Prev][Date Next][Thread Prev][Thread Next][Date Index][Thread Index]

[casi] The Nuclear Option in Iraq

Here's the Arkin piece that Rogers refers to in his article. I don't know if
it's already appeared on the list.

Best wishes,


Los Angeles Times 26/01/03

The Nuclear Option in Iraq
The U.S. has lowered the bar for using the ultimate weapon.

By William M. Arkin
WASHINGTON -- One year after President Bush labeled Iraq, Iran and North
Korea the "axis of evil," the United States is thinking about the
unthinkable: It is preparing for the possible use of nuclear weapons against

At the U.S. Strategic Command (STRATCOM) in Omaha and inside planning cells
of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, target lists are being scrutinized, options
are being pondered and procedures are being tested to give nuclear armaments
a role in the new U.S. doctrine of "preemption."

According to multiple sources close to the process, the current planning
focuses on two possible roles for nuclear weapons:

attacking Iraqi facilities located so deep underground that they might be
impervious to conventional explosives;

thwarting Iraq's use of weapons of mass destruction.

Nuclear weapons have, since they were first created, been part of the
arsenal discussed by war planners. But the Bush administration's decision to
actively plan for possible preemptive use of such weapons, especially as
so-called bunker busters, against Iraq represents a significant lowering of
the nuclear threshold. It rewrites the ground rules of nuclear combat in the
name of fighting terrorism.

It also moves nuclear weapons out of their long-established special category
and lumps them in with all the other military options -- from psychological
warfare, covert operations and Special Forces to air power in all its other

For the United States to lower the nuclear threshold and break down the
firewall separating nuclear weapons from everything else is unsettling for
at least three reasons.

First, if the United States lowers the nuclear threshold -- even as a
possibility -- it raises the likelihood that other nations will lower their
own thresholds and employ nuclear weapons in situations where they simply
need a stronger military punch. Until now, the United States has reserved
nuclear weapons for retaliation against nuclear attacks or immediate threats
to national survival, a standard tacitly but widely accepted around the
world. If the president believes that Iraqi President Saddam Hussein poses
that kind of danger to the United States, he has failed to convince the
world -- and many U.S. citizens.

Second, the move toward thinking of nuclear weapons as just one more option
among many comes at a time when technology is offering a host of better
choices. Increasingly, the U.S. military has the capability of disabling
underground bases or destroying biological and chemical weapons without
uncorking the nuclear bottle, through a combination of sophisticated
airpower, special operations and such 21st century capabilities as
high-powered microwave weapons and cyber warfare.

Third, there are dangers in concentrating the revision of nuclear policy
within a single military command, STRATCOM, which until now has been focused
strictly on strategic -- not policy -- issues of nuclear combat. Command
staff members have unrivaled expertise in the usage and effects of nuclear
weapons, but their expertise does not extend to the whys of weapons usage.

Entrusting major policy reviews to tightly controlled, secret organizations
inside the Pentagon is a hallmark of Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld's
tenure. Doing so streamlines decision-making and encourages new thinking,
advocates say.

But it also bypasses dissenters, many of whom are those in the armed
services with the most knowledge and the deepest experience with the issues.
The Bush inner circle is known to be a tight bunch, prone to "group think"
about Iraq and uninterested in having its assumptions challenged. But there
are opinions they need to hear. While most military officers seem to
consider the likelihood of our using nuclear weapons in Iraq to be low, they
worry about the increased importance placed on them and about the
contradictions inherent in contemplating the use of nuclear weapons for the
purpose of eliminating weapons of mass destruction.

The administration's interest in nuclear contingency plans stems from its
deeply held conviction that the United States must act against Iraq because
of a new and more dangerous terrorist threat involving weapons of mass

"The gravest danger our nation faces lies at the crossroads of radicalism
and technology," Bush declared in the introduction to his national security
strategy, issued last fall. It said enemies of the United States "have
openly declared that they are seeking weapons of mass destruction."

In May, Bush signed National Security Presidential Directive 17, officially
confirming the doctrine of preemptively thwarting any potential use of
weapons of mass destruction.

"U.S. military and appropriate civilian agencies must possess the full range
of operational capabilities to counter the threat and use of WMD," the
president reiterated last December in his National Strategy to Combat
Weapons of Mass Destruction.

The current nuclear planning, revealed in interviews with military officers
and described in documents reviewed by the Los Angeles Times, is being
carried out at STRATCOM's Omaha headquarters, among small teams in
Washington and at Vice President Dick Cheney's "undisclosed location" in

The command, previously responsible for nuclear weapons alone, has seen its
responsibilities mushroom. On Dec. 11, the Defense secretary sent Bush a
memorandum asking for authority to place Adm. James O. Ellis Jr., the
STRATCOM commander, in charge of the full range of "strategic" warfare
options to combat terrorist states and organizations.

The memo, obtained by The Times, recommended assigning all responsibilities
for dealing with foreign weapons of mass destruction, including "global
strike; integrated missile defense; [and] information operations" to
STRATCOM. That innocuous-seeming description of responsibilities covers
enormous ground, bringing everything from the use of nuclear weapons to
nonnuclear strikes to covert and special operations to cyber warfare and
"strategic deception" under the purview of nuclear warriors.

Earlier this month, Bush approved Rumsfeld's proposal. On the surface, these
new assignments give the command a broader set of tools to avoid nuclear
escalation. In reality, they open the door much wider to contemplating
American use of nuclear weapons. The use of biological or chemical weapons
against the U.S. military could be seen as worthy of the same response as a
Russian nuclear attack. If Iraq were to use biological or chemical weapons
during a war with the United States, it could have tragic consequences, but
it would not alter the war's outcome. Our use of nuclear weapons to defeat
Hussein, on the other hand, has the potential to create a political and
global disaster, one that would forever pit the Arab and Islamic world
against us.

How great a change these steps represent are revealed in the fact that
STRATCOM owes its existence to previous post-Cold War policymakers who
considered it vital to erect a great firewall between nuclear and
conventional forces.

Now, with almost no discussion inside the Pentagon or in public, Rumsfeld
and the Bush White House are tearing that firewall down. Instead of
separating nuclear and conventional weapons, Rumsfeld is merging them in one
command structure with a disturbingly simple mission: "If you can find that
time-critical, key terrorist target or that weapons-of-mass-destruction
stockpile, and you have minutes rather than hours or days to deal with it,
how do you reach out and negate that threat to our nation half a world
away?" Ellis asked in December.

The rapid transformation of Ellis' command reveals his answer to that
rhetorical question. Since 9/11, Ellis and his command have been bombarded
with new demands and responsibilities. First, the Pentagon's nuclear posture
review, signed by Rumsfeld in December 2001 and issued in final form in
early 2002, directed the military to reinvigorate its nuclear capability.
STRATCOM was to play a leading role in that reinvigoration.

Among other things, the still-classified posture review said, "nuclear
weapons could be employed against targets able to withstand nonnuclear
attack (for example, deep underground bunkers or bioweapon facilities)."

The review called upon the military to develop "deliberate pre-planned and
practiced missions" to attack WMD facilities, even if an enemy did not use
nuclear weapons first against the United States or its allies.

According to STRATCOM documents and briefings, its newly created Theater
Planning Activity has now taken on all aspects of assessing chemical,
biological, and nuclear weapons facilities worldwide. Planners have focused
intelligence gathering and analysis on seven priority target nations (the
"axis of evil" nations along with Syria, Libya, China and Russia) and have
completed a detailed analysis of intelligence data available on all suspect
sites. According to U.S. Central Command sources, a "Theater Nuclear
Planning Document" for Iraq has been prepared for the administration and
Central Command.

What worries many senior officials in the armed forces is not that the
United States has a vast array of weapons or contingency plans for using
them. The danger is that nuclear weapons -- locked away in a Pandora's box
for more than half a century -- are being taken out of that lockbox and put
on the shelf with everything else. While Pentagon leaders insist that does
not mean they take nuclear weapons lightly, critics fear that removing the
firewall and adding nuclear weapons to the normal option ladder makes their
use more likely -- especially under a policy of preemption that says
Washington alone will decide when to strike.

To make such a doctrine encompass nuclear weapons is to embrace a view that,
sooner or later, will spread beyond the moral capitals of Washington and
London to New Delhi and Islamabad, to Pyongyang and Baghdad, Beijing, Tel
Aviv and to every nuclear nation of the future.

If that happens, the world will have become infinitely more dangerous than
it was two years ago, when George W. Bush took the presidential oath of

Sent via the discussion list of the Campaign Against Sanctions on Iraq.
To unsubscribe, visit
To contact the list manager, email
All postings are archived on CASI's website:

[Campaign Against Sanctions on Iraq Homepage]